Knoll Lake – Arizona Camping Paradise

Knoll Lake Camping – Escaping the Heat of the Valley


When people ask me about what it’s like to live in Phoenix Arizona, I tell them it’s Hot. ‘Yeah, but it’s a dry heat’, they say. To me it doesn’t matter, hot is hot. One is an oven the other is a sauna – it’s hot. So to escape the Phoenix heat for Labor Day weekend was a treat. We decided to take a trip north to Knoll Lake, a 75 acre body of water in the Coconino National Forest. We chose this area because it has the highest elevation of all the lakes in the area, which makes it around 20 degrees cooler than the ‘Valley of the Sun’. So Friday morning, we packed up the cars and traded the forecasted 108 degrees for the allure of an environment that we could actually enjoy.

A view of Knoll Lake

A view of Knoll Lake from the Shore

Why Knoll Lake

Knoll Lake is surrounded by Ponderosa pines, and has a scenic island in the middle of it. It’s the most secluded of the camping areas, and not as popular as the larger lakes since it only allows electronic motors. The lake’s water is clean and clear, and is stocked with trout. The managed campsite is within walking distance to the lake and holds 33 designated spots. Each spot has a barbecue and a fire pit, a picnic table, and two smooth areas for tents. There are clean vaulted toilets and drinking water too.   The campsite is small and it cannot house any large RV trailers – which makes for a nice environment for tent camping. We were looking for a secluded area where we could enjoy some time outside away from the distractions (cell phones, computers, televisions) of the city. Knoll Lake was exactly what we were looking for.

Getting There

Getting to the lake from Phoenix is not very convenient. If you look at the routes on the map, your choices are to go north and then way east before doubling back on Rim Road (FR300) or you can go north, then north some more before finally turning a southwest direction ending up on Rim Road again just from the west. The roads are well kept though, and we managed to make the trip in about three and a half hours, including morning traffic, potty breaks and scenic stops. If you choose to head east through Payson you travel along the Mogollon Rim and are able to enjoy some amazing views, and strangely enough, there is one place along the FR300 where you can get cell service (I know this because my phone alerted me with numerous notifications). Don’t blink though; you will be through the area within seconds!

Mogollon Rim

A view of the Mogollon Rim from Rim Road (FR300)

What to do

Nothing of course! That’s kind of the purpose! But of course you can’t literally do nothing. I sent SpaceMan, LordOfLightning, and MsKittyKat out exploring with their whistles. They inevitably returned with stories of things they saw, and souvenirs (two sticks named Big Betty Bazooka and Bobby Joe). We observed wildlife – having chanced upon a green tree snake of some sort that disappeared before we could look twice, Stellar Jays floated through the treetops, and small squirrels scampered around with their playful antics. The area is known as ‘Black Bear Country’ but there was enough activity in the campsite, lake, and dispersed camping, that I would have been surprised to see one. On a previous trip we saw several herds of Elk – one of which had a sentry stand in the middle of the road while the family passed through.

Elk Crossing near Knoll Lake

Elk Crossing Rim Road (FR300) on the way to Knoll Lake

We read, we played games, we walked to the lake and back. We cooked hotdogs on the campfire for lunch, and had s’mores at night. We swung in hammocks and talked to each other until we fell asleep in our tents.

The lake itself is amazing. Because of the holiday weekend, it was very crowded (for its small parking capacity) but once you landed on the shore, it wasn’t hard to find a spot to hang out that wouldn’t be a bother to others (and we had six dogs with us, so we would have been a bother!). The water was cold – like you would expect – but if you just take the plunge it feels better than ice cream and sunshine mixed all together. I also enjoy canyon lakes better than others because the bottom of the lake (when you can find it) isn’t mushy weeds and grass, though the rocks can be hard to navigate sometimes.

The area is closed off during the winter, so this trip is likely the last one we will make this year, but we will be going back soon! You can find us at the campground – the family with the six dogs.  On Sunday we packed our stuff and headed out – unfortunately right into Labor Day traffic which made the drive twice as long, and when we got home it was still 108 degrees.  Yay.

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